The Day Willie Fergusson Met the Australian Ladies

Further to our reports of a week or so ago on the Australian Ladies, Clive Douglas has sent us the following tale. The Ladies are pictured above outside Burns’ Cottage during their 1926 visit. Clive writes:

The well known Glasgow piper and teacher Eddie McLellan told the story that Willie Fergusson was a sign writer by trade. One day he was working on a shop front sign on Buchanan Street in Glasgow city centre.

From up his ladder he could see a group of women in the crowd coming up the street and they were wearing rather unusual hats.

As they passed Willie he commented on their headgear and engaged in conversation with them. Quicky the ladies with the strange hats told him they were from the Australian Ladies Pipe Band and they were on a world tour.

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Clearly taken with their story and to mark the encounter, Willie subsequently named his latest tune the Australian Ladies. Perhaps this was the day they were on their way to buy the set of pipes mentioned in the Piping Press story? Peter Henderson’s shop at 24 Renfrew Street was not far from where Willie was working.

The name on the original music in Willie Fergusson’s book is The Exiles Return or the Australian Ladies which maybe indicates he added their name after their meeting.

P/M Willie Fergusson, master composer, had a chance encounter with the Australian Ladies before immortalising them in music

Chris McKnight in the US has also contacted us re the Australian Ladies: ‘Thank you for your work on Piping Press. Being four hours behind in North America a visit to the site is one of the first things I do each day. 

‘I read with interest Duncan Watson’s recent article on the Australian Ladies. I have one of the buttons that were referred to in the original article as being sold for fundraising purposes for their world tour. I bought it on the internet:

‘I’ve used The Exile’s Return or Australian Ladies from ‘P/M William Fergussons’s Bagpipe Melodies’ as the background.

‘I’m not sure of the significance of the ‘2672’ on the button – my understanding is that the number may have been used for prize draws. Perhaps the PP readership knows. From the button we can see that the band was originally called the Australian Scottish Ladies Pipe Band.

‘I was going to provide a few lines on William Fergusson but you published a very detailed two-part biography of him in 2017.’

  • The original score in P/M Fergusson’s book is much less dotted and tailed compared to what we hear today. Perhaps it reflects a rounder style of playing back in the 1920s or 30s. Or perhaps the composer left it up to the piper to decide when to dot and cut as GS McLennan seems to have done in his book:

If any reader would like to study the original version of the tune, they can download a copy by clicking on the two chevrons top right:

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